UP ‘Ikot’ drivers wary of campus monorail project

Alcuin Papa

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UP Diliman's jeepney drivers try to deal with change as a monorail is built inside the campus

DRIVERS ARE SCARED. How will the UP monorail project affect the UP Ikot jeepney drivers? All photos by Alcuin Papa

MANILA, Philippines – Every day, as his ‘Ikot’ jeepney passes the area, driver Ric Tarik can’t help but cast a worried look at the construction site of the University of the Philippines Monorail project inside the UP Diliman campus in Quezon City.

“If that (monorail) goes into the campus, it won’t be good for us,” he told Rappler in Filipino. “But we don’t really know if it will go around the campus in the first place.”

Tarik and other drivers of the ubiquitous UP Ikot jeepneys — that have transported generations of UP students to and from their classes around the campus — are leery of the project.

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) has labeled the project as “groundbreaking.” It will be pilot-tested inside the campus.

The DOST and UP administration spearhead the project. Dubbed the UP Automated Guideway Transit (AGT), the monorail project is now in full swing inside the UP Diliman campus.

Poster of the Automated Guideway Transit project in UP Diliman

According to a press release of the university, the current test track already constructed runs for around 500 meters from the corner of CP Garcia and University Avenues to Jacinto Street near the College of Fine Arts.

The track is elevated at 6.1 meters. It is expected to have two electrically-powered coaches that can carry 60 passengers. It will run at 50-60 kph.

The press statement from UP also said that if the tests are favorable, the project will move into the “next phase” that includes a 6.9-km route inside and around the campus.

“Of course we are afraid of it. Of course this will affect our incomes,” said Cesar Sta. Maria, head of the UP Ikot Drivers Association.

Cesar Sta. Maria of the UP Ikot Drivers Association

Phase 2?

According to Sta. Maria, an Ikot driver can earn from P400 to P500 a day. Like other drivers, he managed to send his 4 kids through school with his income.

Through the years, he has seen the ranks of the drivers swell. Today, there are around 60 drivers using around 50 jeepneys plying the estimated two-kilometer route.

At the same time, he has seen the take of the drivers shrink through the years.

Sta. Maria said he has heard talk of the project’s “Phase 2” but has yet to hear it from university officials who regulate the drivers.

“Well, we can’t do anything (if phase 2 pushes through). But we don’t want to start any conflict,” he added.

Over the weekend, the Twitter account of “Philippine Railways” posted pictures of the two new coaches delivered to the site. It was not immediately known if the Twitter account is the official account of the Philippine National Railways (PNR) or if those using the account are affiliated with the PNR, or the Light Rail Transit Authority (LRTA).

“Philippine Railways,” based on its Twitter and Facebook profiles, is a “Filipino railway enthusiast for life.” It also posted a map of the UP Monorail project on its Facebook page.

UP Monorail track seen inside the Diliman campus

‘Test tracks’

Rappler tried to set an interview with UP Vice Chancellor for Community Affairs Prof Melania Flores on the issue but was directed to the Office of Community Relations (OCR).

Community Development Officer Dennis Raymundo of the OCR said he has seen the map posted on the “Philippine Railways” Facebook account and decided to make inquiries with both the DOST and the UP administration. “The project is just in the testing stage and we don’t know if it will be extended.”

Raymundo added that the project would need a large budget to fund the phase 2. “It’s not likely UP will get the budget…unless it gets it from the DOST.”

But if the second phase of the project does push through, Raymundo says they are sure to hold consultations with the UP Ikot drivers. He gave assurances that the livelihood of the drivers won’t be affected. “We think the project won’t be able to handle the number of commuters.”

DOST spokesman Mon Liboro also stressed that the project is still in the testing stage.

“What you see is just a test track. It will be up to UP if the tracks will be extended (around the campus),” he tells Rappler.

As for the second phase, Liboro said there are still no plans for that. “It’s hard to speculate on something that doesn’t exist yet. Nothing is cast in stone.”

Sta. Ana said that even with the monorail, the Ikot jeepneys would still be the best way to get around the campus. “These jeepneys will take you there faster because the route is at street level. It’s more convenient.”

But in the end, Sta. Ana acknowledged that he and his drivers will just have to adapt somehow. “Change is hard but there is something good in it.” – Rappler.com

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